Friday, February 28, 2014

Yoshino Tennin

"Sakura" season is galloping here within a month!  Outside it’s still very cold, but we feel the air to be a bit milder, the trees awakening from dormancy and starting to breathe and vibrate. Forecasters say the blossoming peak will be around March 20 for southern Kyushu and around March 30 for northern Kyushu for the Somei-Yoshino species, the most popular cultured cherry trees. The name Yoshino derives from Mt. Yoshino in Nara Prefecture where mountaineering ascetic monks lead their secluded life, including the famous Samurai Rev. Saigyo whose poem read:

”Let me die in spring under the blossoming cherry trees
Around that full moon night of Kisaragi month”

Mt. Yoshino, well-known for its thousands of cherry trees, must be the best venue for viewing in Japan, crowned with the 2004 UNESCO certification. (See the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Moutain Range")

However, Somei-Yoshino is a minority in Yoshino; majority of them there is the wild mountain cherry tree, planted at different altitude zones. In order, starting from the foot of the mountain to the top they are; Shita-Senbon, Naka-Senbon, Kami-Senbon and Oku-Senbon, which denote thousands of cherry trees at ground level, in the slopes half-way up and the top and deep within the mountain. Yoshino visitors can enjoy flowers probably for over a month as the blossoming shifts upward gradually from the ground level.

I remembered Tomoko Iwasaki, my neighbor and friend in Hino, who performed Noh-play “Yoshino-Tennin”, about 15 years ago. I was one of the invitees to her dance and I met her husband (deceased now) who joined as a senior executive with a newly formed IT venture where my ex-employer is closely connected. I’m glad I found her photo to introduce her as the Noh "Shite" player, a.k.a. Yoshino Tennin, an angel. Look at how noble and divine looking a dancer she was!

Yoshino-Tennin is a two act play in which a man from Kyoto travels to Mt. Yoshino to see the cherry blossoms. There he encounters a beautiful young girl who claimed she, too, came to see flowers from the nearby village. The two enjoy viewing flowers together until the man questions more about her. She confessed she was a Tennin, a celestial being, and if he could wait there until evening she would return to perform the ancient imperial court harvest celebration dance.

In the Second Act, with the moon in the east and the sweet and enchanting music filling the air, Tennin appears in her true celestial form, and dances gracefully using a fan in praise of cherry blossoms, gradually fading away into the twilight mist upon a cloud of cherry blossoms.

Yoshino-Tennin Mrs. Iwasaki played on the day was the Second Act only, thus called Han-Noh (half of the Noh), omitting the First Act. The event was the 25th Year Anniversary of the club she belonged to. I saw the event program had a number of Noh 'lyrics play' without music accompaniment before and after the Yoshino-Tennin. In other words, Yoshino-Tennin was the featured Noh of the day, accompanied by four musicians, a full music ensemble (flute, and three drums - stick, hip, shoulder), and Tomoko was the star of the celebration.

Personally, my voice is low. It's bass. Yoshino-Tennin was a hard one to sing when I was a young Noh student. During a one-on-one lesson, I simply couldn't imitate my male teachers' feminine voice. The teacher suggested "just relax and try to tone softer" but I think I failed in Noh.

The lyrics of Yoshino Tennin closes with:

Miyoshino Oh, Mt. Yoshino
The blanketed mountains with the blooming cherry trees
In one exquisite color of tint
Now as the evening dusk gathering
All turning into a misty haze trailing high and low
Riding on the cloud of pedals
Riding on the cloud of pedals
Then mingling with the mist of Heaven
Now lost to sight

Video of Yoshinoyama:


Judith Johnson said...

Thank you for your explanation of sakura trees and the video, Rio. After reading your description of Yoshino-Tennin and the final verses, if I have an opportunity, I'll try to see the play. Judith

rio imamura said...

Thank you, Judith. If you find the play coming locally, let me know.
I wish to join you. rio